By Olivia Padilla
As I sift through the synopses of the New York Times bestsellers, I can’t help but grumble. Same old, same old. See, I can’t relate to contemporary literature – never have. I first came to this realization during my middle and high school days when I began reading young adult fiction. I didn’t see myself in the characters. What could a girl living in Rhode Island, who is on the crew team, and bikes around town at all hours of the night, have in common with me, a girl who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico? Albuquerque is a dry and rough city, where walking around at all hours of the day or night is not advisable. We might as well have grown up in parallel dimensions. Now that I’m older and read literary fiction, I still find myself reading characters who have little or no connection to the world I live in.
I can’t relate because most literary characters do not share the same identity as I do – the Hispanic identity that thrives off movida and órale. Of course, some will say that I can always turn to the list of classic reads by Latin American and Chicano authors, like Blue Mesa Review’s founder, Rudolfo Anaya, to quench my thirst. But why should I have to continually refer to a specific list to see myself reflected in writing? I don’t want to use several filters before finding what I want. Instead, I want to find multiple works of literature that are widely recognized that feature Hispanic and Latino characters. Why doesn’t contemporary literature include characters that have the movida and burst into an órale once in a while?
I mean, movida is simply a great character trait. It’s the ability to get anything and everything on the cheap. We all have that one cousin who can find deals. He’s the one who always has tickets to the big game that he got from his “work,” – the same one who will travel a state over to purchase a boat for $150 cheaper than any of the others in town. He’s the guy who hacks all the family’s Amazon Fire Sticks to get the movies that are still in theaters, and makes Christmas gifts of the coats that he was “left with” after volunteering at the local news station coat drive. He has the movida. And since movida is universal, literature should depict it.
Also, órale is arguably one of the most versatile phrases of all time. ¿Órale? (slight lift of the chin) means “What’s up?”; ¡Órale! (yell out loud) means “That’s cool!”; ¡Órale! (furrow the brow and puff out the chest) means “What the hell!” It can also be used to get in and out of trouble, or when at a loss of words. Its meaning is ever growing and everlasting.
According to the Pew Research Center, the Latino population in the United States is around 58 million people. But the number of Hispanic authors featured on the New York Times bestsellers list simply doesn’t correlate with this rapidly growing population.
I have gone far too long without identifying with characters in books. I’m waiting to see the spirit of movida emerge in print, and hear órales roll off the tongue of characters in mainstream, contemporary literature. After all, I’m sure there is a Latina in Rhode Island somewhere rowing away, shouting “¡Órale!” after reaching a personal best.
Olivia Padilla is a staff reader for Blue Mesa Review